Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Water or Juice?

This is not an entry about people on a liquid diet but in titling it, I have to wonder about the coincidence of our most popular utilities – water and electricity, reflecting beverages. Interesting, no?

So far, during my tenure here, I have been without electricity for a period of over 24 hours (See Black Friday) and this past week have been without water for over 24 hours. Both events were unannounced and both events caused discomfort in my routine.

NOTE: Routine is a word used in perfect grandiosity here. I essentially have no routine, especially now that I am done teaching the sophomores and only have 2 classes of freshmen a week. Too bad that the day we woke up to no water on campus was a day that I had to go teach. I couldn’t hide at home until I could shower.

I got cleaned up as best I could and left the house. As this was on a Tuesday, Sam also had an early class to teach and when I saw him, he looked just as bedraggled as I felt/looked with no washing possible. Luckily I had some moist wipes and was able to at least swipe one over my face and hands. Also, the bottled water came in handy to brush my teeth with. So, at least it wasn’t like I had just fallen out of bed and into my clothes.

As I walked to class I saw, all over campus, kids carrying buckets of water back to their dorms. Two questions immediately popped into my mind. Where do they get the fortitude to just accept and adapt to these ever changing, uncomfortable circumstances? Where did they get that water from?

They got the water from the fire stands. Each fire department connection had a wrench attached to it and when someone needed water, they just brought their bucket and filled up. Granted it was cold water, and laden with what kind of organisms I couldn’t begin to imagine, but if the system is not closed loop, maybe the water is not stagnant.

I still don’t know where they get their fortitude. But I’m coming to realize I’m way more spoiled than I ever imagined I was, or even want to be. These kids put me to shame come gut check time.

Or maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that they know how to manage such things and I don’t have any experience managing things like this. It could be a little of both.

After class, still no water. I went to the food vendors for breakfast and then went out to town for the day. I couldn’t clean house, cook, shower or flush the toilet with no water. In summary: my apartment is lacking 2 major comforts I take for granted: heat and water that flows from the tap. Those are good enough reasons to stay away, right?

I bummed around town all day, enjoying the warmth of the various stores I visited and eating a good dinner. Catching the late bus home I hoped that the water would be back on because I really missed feeling clean. Not being able to shower before class, coupled with bumming around town and catching dirt and grime typical of Wuhan really caused me to hope for a shower before bed.

As I walked on campus I noted that no one was carrying buckets of water anywhere. But then again, it was late. Maybe all of the water carrying was done for the night. The acid test would come when I entered my apartment and turned on the tap.

Water! There, flowing in a silver stream from the spigot, called forth by the flick of my finger. Water! There is water on campus again!

As always when something like this happens I stop to think about it. What would I do if the service had not been restored? How would I manage if I never had water piped directly into my living quarters? In China, that is not uncommon, you know. Not so much in the city anymore, but in the semi-rural and rural areas, people still go to the well to get their day’s water supply. And, because of the Yellow River dam project and severe droughts, they have to make that water last; it is not like it is a never-ending supply. Could I manage with just one bucket of water a day? Could you?

Maybe that is where the kids get it from. Maybe, for a lot of these kids, indoor plumbing and running water is a luxury and they are used to hauling water from the well, spilling nary a drop of it along the way.

Here’s another thought: would you rather be without electricity or without water?

If I had to choose, I would rather be without water for a day than without electricity for a day. Especially now, with the temperature plummeting and both of my heat sources being electric. Of course I’m sure that, if push came to shove I could light a fire but I think the University officials would probably frown on my having a bonfire in my apartment.

With electricity I can heat my home, cook food, entertain myself (and you to some extent, as long as I can post my blog entries).

Without water, I can make do. I can learn to carry a bucketful of water and learn to make it last. If I really wanted to put on airs, I could go to any of the 5 local supermarkets and buy bottled water. Heat it and I can at least sponge bathe.

So, which one would you prefer: water or juice?

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